I have to be honest and say that last week’s episode ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ was the lowest point of this new series so far with a weak story, terrible side character performances and failing to really give the members of TEAM Tardis anything worthwhile to do and actually for me, showcased all my fears about having the Doctor travelling with three companions. Thankfully Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was brilliant and has really taken this role in her grip firmly already. Now going into Episode 6 and just like with episode ‘Rosa’, is looking to go back into real historical events and will focus on Yasmin, putting her front and centre in the story which is something I have been hoping for since episode one.
Starting off I will say that seeing a new writer taking the reigns for this episode instead of Chris Chibnall was a sigh of relief for me, after a promising start to the series last week’s episode was heartbreaking to sit through so knowing that this episode as well as the next three episodes are not written by him allows the show to grow in terms of ideas and story telling. I am sure Chibnall will return with better stories than last week but a good part of my Whovian soul is relieved to see him taking a step back from writing for this series.
I am pleased to see Mandip Gill who plays Yasmin getting the chance to step up more instead of just being the one who follows the Doctor about all star struck and wide eyed, sadly something her character has been due to having such a large group of three companions every week rotating to get lines and screen time. Demons of the Punjab takes Team TARDIS back to India in 1947 on Partition Day, after Yas asks the Doctor to take her back to see her Grandmother as a young woman. With a bit of reluctance and warning about interfering with ones own timeline, they arrive in 1947 in a very troubled time for India and whilst Yas seeks out to discover her Grandmother’s secret history, the Doctor discovers another threat to India that must be dealt with.
By focusing on this time in history, the story is able to tell the audience or in some cases teach the audience about Indian history, that on this day in 1947 in an attempt to separate two religions of Hindu and Islam, Britain split India into two regions of Pakistan and India and the fallout this had on families and people of India. This episode puts Team TARDIS smack in the middle of Partition day as Yas’s family show the impact of the split had on them as well as learning about their past which comes as both a shock and surprise to Yas. It lacks the same emotional impact of Rosa Park’s story but it is still a powerful one to tell and the use of cinematography is the best yet for the series to tell this story.
This is an episode that very much sticks to the same style and flow as ‘Rosa’ in that it not only seeks to educate the audience on real historical events in the hope it gives them a new perspective on current world issues, but also in leading one member of Team TARDIS to have a life changing moment leaving the Doctor to go and do some world saving Doctor hero stuff. But there has started to be a rather clumsy way of the Doctor suddenly remembering all these brand new and never seen or mentioned before alien species and just bringing them in to the series in every episode. Now the Whovian in me could say this is solely because the Doctor has never encountered them before or maybe this latest regeneration is the reason why previously forgotten information has been recovered by the newest Doctor, but still it feels all the more forced to explain the new monster of the week.
So again we have the Doctor herself as almost a side story to the history lesson the episode wants the audience to have and in doing so you have a story of two halves which at times can come together but still feels separated. A consequence leaves yet again, members of Team TARDIS with little to do, namely Ryan who becomes a spectator to events and Graham, who has suddenly become the character who tries to comfort everyone else each episode with his wisdom and little jokes. This issue is really holding back the story telling for me as each companion, who are yet to be referred to as companions, take turns in having a story centre on them.
Jodie’s performance is again spot on and so far she and the new Doctor feel the most comfortable and set for this series with all the problems currently for me at least, coming from the over crowded Team TARDIS and it is noticeable when one or more falls into the background in the story telling. There is real intent on behalf of Chris Chibnall to change what fans can expect from Doctor Who and the focus on social commentary with two huge emotional episodes such as Demons of the Punjab and Rosa are well put together and tell their stories incredibly well and powerfully, but the lack of a series arc for the Doctor is starting to grate on me now with six episodes down and it is simply the Doctor and Team TARDIS having an adventure of the week with no real fluidity or connection to each other except for lines of dialogue dropped here and there.
Demons of the Punjab has again raised the bar in terms of what stories can be told via Doctor Who and Mandip Gill finally had her episode to shine as Yasmin with two stories now focusing on her family. The new Doctor is one of bravery and compassion and will defend those around her to the end, but the quirkiness that Jodie brings to each episode has truly made the role her own. I would like to see more of the timey whimey stories of old and some lighthearted stories now, this series has been quite dark and heavy with the history lessons and the way in which episodes can end without the Doctor on screen to give the final scene or dialogue is refreshing but strange at the same time.
This was another strong episode for the series and a return to form after last week’s terrible outing. For some reason I am still waiting for all the changes in the presentation and style of the series to feel natural for me, the size of Team TARDIS continues to be a problem and lack of a series over arching story-line still feels out of place. The cinematography and visuals make great use of being on location and the musical score to the episode is striking and evocative of the story being told and gives the episode a real big budget feel as well has helping to tell the story beautifully.
With just three episodes left this series, I am unsure of how it will end for Doctor or new friends, but i am still enjoying the 13th Doctor even if the rest of the new look Doctor Who has yet to settle into something I can reliably look forward to every Sunday.